Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2023

How Hamilton told Mercedes he was leaving and why Wolff holds “no grudge”

Formula 1

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says he holds no grudge against Lewis Hamilton for his decision to leave for Ferrari at the end of the year.

The team announced yesterday Hamilton will leave at the end of this season, having driven for them since 2013. Hamilton and Mercedes have enjoyed the most successful partnership between a driver and team in the history of F1, winning eight constructors’ titles together while Hamilton has taken the drivers’ title six times.

In August Mercedes announced it had agreed terms for Hamilton to continue driving for them in 2024 and 2025. But yesterday it confirmed Hamilton had taken advantage of an escape clause in his contract to leave the team.

Wolff said Hamilton’s decision was not entirely unexpected. “When we signed the contract with Lewis, we opted for a shorter term,” he told media including RaceFans today. “So the events are not a surprise. Maybe the timing.”

Hamilton informed Wolff of his decision two days ago over coffee at the Mercedes principal’s home in Oxford. “He said to me that he had decided to race for Ferrari in 2025. And that was, that was basically it. Then we had a conversation and this is where we are.”

Hamilton told Wolff he had decided to take on a new challenge and wanted to change his environment. However Wolff also believes Hamilton, who will turn 40 next year, is taking advantage of what could be his last chance to race for F1’s most historic team.

“How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable,” said Wolff, “that he needed a new challenge, that he was looking for a different environment and that it was maybe the last possibility to do something else.

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“We’re big boys, we knew that by signing a short-term contract, it could be of benefit for both sides. We couldn’t commit for a longer period. And he’s taken the option to exit. So we totally respect that you can change your mind. There’s different circumstances. And switching to Ferrari, maybe for the last [move] in his career. Maybe rolling the dice a bit, I can follow that decision.”

Having enjoyed unprecedented success over much of their time together, the team has been in a slump for the past two years, during which time Hamilton has not won a single race. Although Hamilton continued to profess his commitment to the team and extended his contract to drive for them, Wolff said he “holds no grudge” over his decision to leave.

“It doesn’t hurt because I need to keep calm and decide how we’re going to best manage the 2024 season and what the decisions need to be going forward,” he said. “It’s not like a someone that I like a lot is disappearing, it’s just changing the team.

“We’ve been very conscious in signing the contract that it could happen. Maybe the timing was a surprise. But I’ve had many black swans [surprising events] swimming in front of me, the unexpected, and I think in Formula 1 it’s all about agility and being able to embrace change of circumstances.”

Wolff said his first reaction to Hamilton’s decision was how to handle its implications for the team. “When he told me first my next thought was pragmatic,” said Wolff. “What does it mean? When are we communicating this? What are the pressure points? How are we managing the season going forward and what is it we are going to do in terms of driver line up? So the team’s mind kicked in.

“Having slept a few nights upon it, it means that our professional journey comes to an end, of working together, but it doesn’t mean that our personal relationship ends. I’ve found a friend, we’ve built a relationship over the last 10 years and he faced a very, very difficult situation, taking of taking a decision of where to drive, maybe for the first time since 10 years without being able to brainstorm with me.

“Therefore, I will always respect the difficulty of the situation that he faced and in the future we will discuss whether this could have been done in a different way or not. But I hold no grudge.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “How Hamilton told Mercedes he was leaving and why Wolff holds “no grudge””

  1. Very professional by Wolff. Hamilton did everything for Mercedes, brought unprecedented sucess too. It’s just the end of a very profitable chapter for both, that’s it.

    1. I agree there yeah. Everything he brings up, it sounds so professional and mature. Really what one would want from such a boss and manager.

      It shows that they really do communicate. It also shows why they wanted to pick up George when they did, exactly for this reason. And it also points to the team and Hamilton having a solid base to shine for a final stint of races to part on a high.

      What is not to like, right?

      1. Wow. So all this was very recent. And Ferrari released intell as soon as Hamilton confirmed he had voiced his decision with Toto.

        As for the Timing by leaking this to the press they took that decision away from Hamilton who I’m sure would have spoken to the team first, and then had a press conference to make the announcement.

        It is what it is,

        I hope Mercedes spends this year celebrating their champion. I wonder if this means a new livery?

  2. It just feels so bad that Hamilton will race for anything besides Mercedes. 2025 will be hard to watch.

    1. hard to watch? i could skip this ’24 season altogether just to see something different.

      1. I’m with you 100% Evaldo.

        How on earth could something new and interesting be “hard to watch” ?

        1. How on earth could something new and interesting be “hard to watch” ?

          I can see how this is hard to take for people who have build their fandom around an us vs them narrative with Lewisw+Mercedes as their heros.

          But if you want change and to learn new things, this is very exciting.

      2. Maybe Carlos would be interested in spending a year at Mercedes, then Lewis could hop over the fence and start at Ferrari this year.

    2. @Kribana what do you mean? Change is good. I can’t wait to see what happens and what else it affects.

      1. While I don’t think it will be hard to watch, I can see what they mean. Hamilton has been at Mercedes for over a decade, it’s going to be very strange seeing him in a red car. If you’re a strong fan of both Hamilton and Mercedes, it could be very difficult to process…

        1. I think people said much the same when Hamilton moved from McL to Merc, when Vettel moved from RB to Ferrari, or when Schuey moved from Renault/Benneton to Ferrari. It took all of about ten minutes for the strangeness to wear off.

    3. No, i think we’ll see the very best from Hamilton in his final year for the team.
      Its now down to Mercedes how it choose to end that relationship…. It can’t be any worse than that final chapter at McLaren.

      1. He still try and ring its neck you would think. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he has the Mercedes emblem branded on his butt cheek!

    4. Hard to watch wor dyed-in-the-wool tiffosi

      Expect the hardest booing of all time in Monza this season

      1. @34rthl1ng why would the Tifosi boo Hamilton? I imagine they’ll be over the moon that a top tier driver wants to make the switch to drive in a red suit.
        Even if they do have to wait for a season, it’s not like he could’ve gone any sooner

  3. Ofcourse they are professional in the media, both have seen this coming for months. They have had time to count to 10 discuss it with their press advisor and come up with a statement and plan on what rhetoric to use.

    The tone will be different during a race weekend and adrenaline and emotions are running high.

    It’s going to be an interesting season to watch for the offtrack shenanigans.

  4. This has actually worked out well for Wolff. Because of Hamilton’s history with the team, it would have been very hard to get rid of him (not that I am suggesting Toto didn’t like Lewis, he has obviously built the team around Lewis having #1 status).

    Because Lewis has chosen to leave of his own accord (he’d been floating the idea of a sabbatical, so certainly the offer of a longer contract was what made him leave rather than any real desire to go to Ferrari), Toto can now focus on the future of Mercedes without feeling guilty.

    Will be interesting to see who takes the seat in 2025. I think he’ll want some young talent as George will be well established in the team by then (3 years in a race seat and longer in the system).

    This will also give George the chance of getting car and strategy tweaked to his needs rather than Lewis’ during 2024. Telling the team you are leaving before a car has even turned a wheel is going to change priorities.

    I do feel like Ferrari have got the short straw here. This isn’t an Alonso to Aston situation. Leclerc is perhaps the second best driver on the grid right now, Sainz is the best “wing-man” on the grid, and Lewis at 40 is not Lewis at 28 (last time he moved teams). I do wonder if this was what Fred Vasseur wanted. They might sell a few more T-shirts at Silverstone but the chances of this turning into a Schumacher-style period of domination are close to zero.

    1. I very much doubt Hamilton is expecting to dominate again. He’s probably going just to live the dream and maybe leave on a high note with the most popular racing team in the world. He’s still one of the best but his time has passed, he’ll be 40 next year. Charles is their guy, who just signed a longer multi-year deal a few weeks ago.

      If Hamilton can get there and help them build something for the upcoming years, then his job is done.

      Sainz was actually considering options even before this announcement and doesn’t want to play the wingman role anyway, so it was probably easy to drop him.

      1. Broadsowrd to Danny Boy
        2nd February 2024, 13:49

        From Hamilton’s point of view he already knows that Mercedes have minimal chance of beating Red Bull this coming season or probably in 2025, so he has the option of racing for a good ‘also ran’ for $x,000,000 a season or racing for a different good ‘also ran’ for $xx,000,000. There’s no doubt in my mind that Ferrari will have paid far more for Hamilton in 2025 around than Merc would, simply for the advertising and media interest this deal will get them. Aside from the money, Hamilton finally gets that Ferrari driver cachet that seems so enticing to drivers and fans alike. I doubt he’ll win another championship with them in 25, but then he probably knows that’s the case regardless of who he’s driving for as there is no Red Bull seat on offer and Max would get pref anyway.

        Come 2026 it’s another roll of the dice and maybe Ferrari will be the ones to get both the engine and chassis right…..

      2. Yeah, with only a 2 year contract, the alternative might have been a very unglorious departure from the team.

        eg Hamilton fails to get a win, as Mercedes continues to favor Russell, and then suddenly Hamiton is just another out-going driver looking for a team, or retiring. This way we get to celebrate his achievements as he prepares for his eventual retirement.

      3. I think Brundle sussed it out well. Rehiring Marc Hynes and moving to Ferrari is about Hamilton returning to focus on actual racing again, enjoying that, rather than the black hole of ‘car development’ he’s been through for 2 years.

    2. Hamilton doesn’t have #1 status at Mercedes, that one is reserved for his boss. Guys who have #1 status on the team don’t have chronic setup issues and a car not built around them.

    3. I do wonder if this was what Fred Vasseur wanted.

      Well he said he wanted Hamilton at Ferrari last year. Not sure if that information is capable of answering your question.
      Yes Hamilton will be 40. Does that make the sport’s most successful ever driver, who hasn’t taken a sabbatical like Schumacher, Raikkonen or Alonso did before later-career moves (unless you count the last two years at Mercedes…), likely to be consistently slower than Leclerc in races? I doubt it. He also brings huge amounts of title-winning experience, which Ferrari are kind of short on right now.

      This will also give George the chance of getting car and strategy tweaked to his needs rather than Lewis’ during 2024. Telling the team you are leaving before a car has even turned a wheel is going to change priorities.

      Which is apparently why Hamilton announced his decision early. To give the team a full year to adjust and to avoid their season being undermined by rumours and speculation. Though you seem to have very ungenerously missed that dimension entirely.

  5. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    2nd February 2024, 13:12

    Good comment wiped out by page cannot be found… Mercedes would have loved that one. I guess I’ll rewrite it after exercise…

    Come back to read it and let’s win this thing this year!

  6. Wolff knew it was either this or a retirement coming soon. Either way, them parting on short term was inevitable. So no surprises here. More difficult is how to handle 2024 as it is not in Lewis interest at all, in a swap teams scenario (vs a retirement scenario), to help Mercedes get stronger.

    1. I think if Hamilton had announced he was retiring at the end of this season, that would have been quite awkward for the team, and there would be too much focus on Hamilton. It would have made 2024 a sort of farewell tour, and I’m really glad we are not getting that. It also gives Merc a full year to fill a vacancy instead of the uncertainties we get around mid-season when drivers are trying to find out which top teas will have a vacancy the following season.

      1. Good point. Retiring at the EOS might’ve proven an even bigger distraction and drain on focus and resources. Also, as some have mentioned, even though I’m not a fan of Ham,?it’d be a really depressing to see his career end with another year of Lewis depressed at Merc as they struggle to develop or realize no one will ever beat Newey.

  7. Sounds very similar to what Horner said about Vettel leaving. These guys know Ferrari is something special, and that, for their own team, they want a driver who is committed and not someone who’d rather be elsewhere. It’s no use making a fuzz about it, or trying to keep them to the contract by all means available to them.

    1. Agree with all of that Michael. Whether a driver signs at the start of the year or druing the sumer break, the team still need to have a good relationship with the driver, they still want that driver to win races for them, score points, help them improve the car, right up to the last race of the season.

  8. As a LH fan, I’m torn. I would love to see him finish at Merc but fully understand the move and think watching him and Charles try to take down Max will be interesting to watch. I hope they get their race strategy calls figured before LH joins.

  9. Unless Lewis takes some Mercedes staff with him like Bono, Rosie Waite, Andrew Shovljn, etc, this is going to end up in tears for all concerned.

    I can’t see Lewis dealing with the regular Ferrari strategy cock ups the same way Leclerc or Sainz does. He is going to be far less acceptable.

    1. Well if that would finally result in them doing better next time(s), I’d say that might be a good thing for the team and drivers (it’s been painful having Sainz decide for himself to go differently, and with a very solidly better ratio of success to failure, and the team didn’t change much as far as I can see).

    2. I think Hamilton will bring with him new ways of dealing with things, this could be what Ferrari wants for the long term, not just another driver, but a driver who forces them to also change.

      I wonder how Hamilton the brand will fit with Ferrari the history….

      1. Not a Ham fan, but I agree. I don’t expect to see him whining and.moaning about things like that at Ferrari. IMO, he wanted a change of scenery to enjoy his last few seasons (+ tick that Ferrari box). If Ferrari end up being a contender, that will just be icing on the cake.

  10. Does Hamilton even speak Italian?

    1. No, but maybe he can ask Alonso to translate for him. He could probably handle both his and Lewis’ radio traffic. Luckily for Ham, Ferrari speaks English.

  11. Charles this is Frédéric. Please let Lewis pass.

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